Is Knit a 4-Letter Word? How to Sew with Knits!

Quilting with knits is not hard, there are just some tricks and tips to know. Learn all about how to sew with knits!

My quilty friends, we’ve talked about many things within the pages of this blog. We’ve covered flannel and linen fabric, cotton and poly thread; we’ve even waved goodbye to conventional wadding and ushered in a new era of bamboo, wool, and midnight-shaded batting. But there’s still one material in which we've barely skimmed the surface, even though it’s a very fine surface indeed.

I’m talking about knits, people. Stretchy, squishy, yummy, scrummy, wrap me up in a tight-fabric-burrito-cause-they’re-so-soft – knits. Back on our Quilty Adventure through different substrates, we talked specifically about jersey knit, so be sure to check that out too.

If you follow along with my personal sewing adventures, you may know that I recently started quilting with knits and even designed a pattern that works exceptionally well with it, the Bohemian Garden quilt pattern. Through my experiments and studies, I learned some things that make this substrate an incredibly fun fabric for quilting. So take this journey with me cause knits are wonderfully flexible, so we can be too!

How to Sew with Knits: A Basic Knit Q & A

Q: In two sentences, what’s the difference between knit and regular quilt-weight cotton?

A: Two sentences you say? Oh dear...let me think...OK, the most important takeaway is that your typical quilt-weight cotton is made from two threads being woven together – which means it will fray when you cut it. Knits, however, are created using one continuous yarn being looped back and forth – the result is a fray-free world.

You can see what I'm talking about below. Notice the dark pink fabric on the left has a clear weave and edges that fray. Do you see how the light pink knit on the right has tiny rounded loops as the raw edge? You'll have to look really closely for that. But if you do, you'll notice that even this light-weight knit looks like a knitted sweater...a tiny, mouse-made sweater.

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Quilting with knits is not hard, there are just some tricks and tips to know. Learn all about how to sew with knits and what the differences are between woven and knit fabrics. | Suzy Quilts
Quilting with knits is not hard, there are just some tricks and tips to know. Learn all about how to sew with knits and what the differences are between woven and knit fabrics.

Q: Are Knit and Jersey the same thing?

A: Being new to knits, I started off using the terms “jersey” and “knit” interchangeably. For the most part, you can get away with that and you won’t be wrong. However, if you want to get specific, and technically “correct,” jersey is a type of knit. Knitted fabric without a distinct rib is generically called jersey.

Q: Now that you bring it up, is jersey from New Jersey in the United States?

A: Those of us in the U.S. would like to believe that to be true, however, jersey originated from the Bailiwick of Jersey, a Channel Island off the coast of England. The fabric was commonly used for fishermen’s clothing and was originally a lot heavier than the quilt-o-licious jersey knits we know today.

Quilting with knits is not hard, there are just some tricks and tips to know. Learn all about how to sew with knits and what the differences are between jersey knit and interlock knit.

Q: What should I look for when buying knits for quilting?

A: This is mostly preference, but since I’m the one writing, I’ll give you my preference. Look for fabric with some weight to them. If the store or website is listing weight, shoot for 10 - 12 oz. Knits lighter than that can end up being a little transparent and in turn have more stretch to them. If your fabric shop or favorite online shop does not list weight, look for one that is mostly cotton or labeled cotton interlock.

Q: You just threw in another term! What is interlock?

A: Sorry! So sorry! I didn’t mean to throw new information at you this late in the blog post. I’ll keep it brief. Interlock knit is a wonderful first-timers knit because it’s thicker than your average jersey and doesn’t have the same amount of stretch. It’s made up of two rows of stitches, one directly behind the other – which gives it its thickness and allows it not to curl at the edges. (You know how sometimes your jersey T-shirts can do that?)

Quilting with knits is not hard, there are just some tricks and tips to know. Learn all about how to sew with knits and what the differences are between jersey knit and interlock knit.

In the photo above, the bright chartreuse is a jersey knit and the light blue is an interlock knit. The obvious difference is what the raw edges do – one curls and the other stays nice and flat.

I used a mostly cotton interlock knit to sew my original Bohemian Garden quilt. The Bohemian Garden wholecloth quilt, however, uses two large pieces of jersey knit. See how the edges roll a bit at the binding? (The same Boho Garden quilt pattern includes instructions for both versions.)

Quilting with knits is not hard, there are just some tricks and tips to know. Learn all about how to sew with knits and what the differences are between jersey knit and interlock knit.
Quilting with knits is not hard, there are just some tricks and tips to know. Learn all about how to sew with knits and what the differences are between jersey knit and interlock knit.
Quilting with knits is not hard, there are just some tricks and tips to know. Learn all about how to sew with knits and what the differences are between jersey knit and interlock knit.

Q: I’ve purchased my knit and now I’m ready to sew. I scared.

A: Don’t be scared! Hold my hand. Let’s do this together. If you are using your basic sewing machine, flip your regular straight stitch to either a stretch stitch (looks like a lightning bolt) or a zig-zag stitch. You can use the same thread you always use when piecing a quilt. I like to strap on my walking foot, but as long as you have a foot that’s wide enough for your zig-zag stitch, you’re good.

Ready? Now sew...slow. I mean, not weirdly slow, just sew a bit slower than you normally would. Let your feed dogs do their job and feed the knit through the machine. I almost don’t even want to say it, because it’s not going to happen because you are a great quilter, but try not to stretch the fabric at this point. See? I shouldn’t have said anything. You totally weren’t going to do that anyway!

If your machine only has a straight stitch, don’t count yourself out. There’s this magical stuff called stretch thread that you can get. Load your top and bobbin thread with that, and your straight stitch will remain secure without fear of popping.

Quilting with knits is not hard, there are just some tricks and tips to know. Learn all about how to sew with knits and what the differences are between jersey knit and interlock knit.

One final thought I’d like to leave with you. Knits don’t fray. Yes, yes, I know we covered that already, but I want it to truly sink in. If you’ve ever dreamed of trying appliqué, or even if you are an appliqué master, think about the possibilities if you don’t have to worry about your fabric fraying. The sky's the limit! Now go on and get down with your stretchy self!

Do you have any knit tips? I still learn new things all the time about this substrate, so I'd love to hear from you!

18 thoughts on “Is Knit a 4-Letter Word? How to Sew with Knits!

  1. Liz says:

    Wow, besides beautiful photography and humorous writing, your posts are always so informative! I’ve learned a ton of things I didn’t know before reading this. Thank you Suzy!

  2. Allison says:

    Thanks, Suzy, for the info about types and weights of knits! Who knew?! (obviously you…😜) The first time I sewed with knits, my machine wouldn’t quit eating the fabric and I cried – but ALAS, I took a break from it, came back and practiced with scraps to get the settings *just right* and I finished the dress with no more tears! This was definitely one of the toughest aspects of sewing for me but was a good reminder that sometimes fresh eyes (and a little patience) is the remedy!

  3. Erica says:

    This is super helpful, thank you!! Any chance Lais (sp?) would be willing to partner with you on a blog post that gives some tips on how to photograph quilts?

  4. Kate says:

    I love quilting with knits! I’m so happy to see these tips. Sometimes for old tshirts that I upcycle into quilts, I just discovered a knit interfacing that’s awesome for a little extra support. 🙂 Knit quilts are so COZY too. Thanks for all the great content!

  5. Deb wiedemann says:

    Is it true that when pinning a pattern on knits you don’t have to have the arrows follow the grain as in cotton because knits don’t have grain?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Since knits aren’t woven, they don’t technically have grain, but if you look closely, you can see that there is a direction in how it’s looped together. It is true that you don’t have to worry about stretch and bias as much with knits like you do with woven fabrics.

  6. Barbara says:

    Hi Suzy, I love reading your reviews, you have a way of making things so enjoyable. Hope you’re feeling good, not much longer now for baby to arrive. xox

  7. Mary Malette says:

    Hello Suzy, You’re probably too young to recognize the phrase: “Just the facts, mam.” But your posts are so humorous and well written I don’t mind the extra wordage (the spoken version of yardage) at all! That said, you didn’t mention the use of ball point needles when working with knits. Did you just assume we knew that? Remember what happens when one assumes?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      To tell you the truth, the two times I’ve tried to using ball point needles my thread kept breaking and the tension got funky. Once I switched back to a regular 80/12 Universal my problems when away. Crazy, right? A ball point needle is still a good thing to point out, even though it didn’t work for me.

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